Mr. Paul Pennicook
Director of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB)
Paul Pennicook returned to the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in July 2014 as the country’s Director of Tourism for the second time, with more experience and a new mission. Mr. Pennicook was previously Director of Tourism in Jamaica from 2003-2006. He has built a distinguished career spanning almost 40 years working both in the private and public sides of Jamaica tourism. Aga Charytoniuk sat down with Mr. Pennicook to discuss his unique perspective on what has changed, and about new opportunity for tourism in Jamaica.
—How does it feel to be back to JTB?
I am happy to be back. I consider it a privilege to have been selected to run this next leg of the relay.
I am a very well-known figure in the Jamaica’s tourism industry so then I was very well received. I am very passionate about the tourism industry.
In 2003, I joined JTB as its director, moving into the public sector for the first time in my life. As director, I am doing something for my country, and myself, so it feels I am in the right place.
When I returned to the JTB my hope and intention was to improve the public perception of Jamaica as a destination. We have made some positive progress in that regard. Yet, there are many things to work on.
—In one of your statements, you mentioned that the main challenge currently facing JTB is to find resources to allocate it more into online rather than offline promotion. Do you have any strategies on how to achieve that?
What I was referring to is that we are spending too much of our sources on the traditional forms of media (television, print). And with a changing world and a changing environment I thought it was important to put more efforts on online advertisement. In 2012 we were doing our consumer advertising in the United States, which is our largest market. We invested 90 % of our resources on television. I want to change it and shift more into digital marketing including online branding.
—In 2006, Jamaica achieved the highest percentage increase in visitor arrivals in a single year, for more than 30 years, driven by record-breaking investment in new hotel and resort development. What are the country branding strategies under this cadency to increase the number of inbound tourism?
Jamaica has become one of the major brands for music, food and over the past years also for sport events like the Olympics. We currently have the fastest women and men in the world. These kind of achievements help to brand us.
Then we have the Blue Mountain Coffee among other products that Jamaica is proud of. We can never forget about the warm and friendly nature of our people. Tourism is very important. We have built our brands over the years by advertising Jamaica across the world. We are at the point we had 3.5 million visitors to Jamaica in 2014, which is broken down to 2.1 stop-over visitors and 1.4 cruise visitors. And we differentiate them in the case of the cruise visitors because they only come for a day. The ship docks in the morning and leaves in the afternoon, which gives just enough time to explore the island.
Overall, we are looking at 4% growth in inbound tourism in 2016 in comparison to 2015. This will be possible by increasing the room inventory and airline seats.
—What are the biggest opportunities and potentials in Jamaican tourism still to be explored?
The area where I think we can do better is developing a chain of meetings and conventions on a bigger scale. We do get smaller meetings of groups up to 200-300 participants, which can be handled by a hotel. We have a convention center opened in 2011 in Montego Bay. We need to work more on that.
In terms of niche markets we consider a development of a medical tourism, but also sport tourism (golfers, surfers etc.).
We are very keen on developing some specific markets, in particular in Asia. If we get 25000 tourists from Japan, 50000 from China, 10000 from Australia per year, then it would change a balance with the markets from U.S. and Canada. We want to achieve that.
—How do you think Jamaican tourism industry will look like in the near future? In your opinion, will the opening of Cuba to the U.S. market be beneficial or rather unfavorable to Jamaica tourism?
We are willing to work with Cuba together as partners. Cuba is not going to take all the business from Jamaica. We have been competing with Cuba in the Canadian, European and Latin American markets for years. Jamaica got 2 million stop-over visitors last year, and Cuba got 3 million (excluding U.S.). Yes, they will open to the U.S. and they will have a lot of “curiositors” first, but they will not suddenly take all tourists going to Bahamas, Jamaica and other destinations in the Caribbean.
—What Jamaica could offer to Japanese tourists and how to encourage them to visit Jamaica despite a long flight?
Japanese market is very important for us. We are not only offering beach type of holidays to them. We are selling history, culture (music), and cuisine. I know the Japanese people love reggae music and they want to dance and they want to experience it in Jamaica.
I am interested in inviting a lot of Japanese young single working women who want to have amazing holidays before they get married and settle down, and have their families. They fall into that group interested in music and culture. So a lot of them would go to Kingston to see Bob Marley Museum in Trench Town and attend many music events.
Another target market is people who want to have their wedding ceremonies in Jamaica and the honeymooners.
Before the world crisis in 2008 there were many young Japanese who wanted to have a Western type of wedding in Jamaica but this Japanese market collapsed, unfortunately. We had 25000 Japanese visitors in a year. It does not sound like a big number when you think of how many Japanese travel around in Asia. But it is a lot for us! That is an average of 2000 visitors per month.
Nowadays, we get about 3000 Japanese tourists per year. And we are trying to increase the number. For that, this year I will be visiting major travel agencies in Japan to encourage them to focus on Jamaica.
For more information about Jamaica, please visit the official website of the Jamaica Tourism Board: www.visitjamaica.com.